Thursday March 14, 2013
At the South Burlington City Council’s first meeting since the March 5th election, changes were afoot. This initial meeting, largely organizational, resulted in a new Council Chair, Pam Mackenzie; Vice Chair, Pat Nowak; and Clerk, Chris Shaw.
Former Chair Rosanne Greco briefed Mackenzie on some of the responsibilities that would be transferring to the new Chair, including meetings with the airport strategic planning commission and issues of the home buyout program. Greco also noted that she has been in conversation with the National Gardening Association (NGA) about potentially returning to South Burlington, as well as with Tony Cairns about mutually beneficial developments.
In one of Mackenzie’s first actions as the new Council Chair, she addressed the four interim zoning committees. She determined that it would be appropriate to appoint citizen representatives to Chair the committees and to ask the Councilors who had overseen the committees to become Council liaisons. Former Councilors Sandy Dooley and Paul Engels, who were present in the audience, were asked by the Chair to step down as Chair of their respective committees, affordable housing and form-based code, but to remain active on the committees. John Simson was appointed chair of the affordable housing committee with Pat Nowak as the Council liaison and Vince Bolduc was appointed the new Chair of the sustainable agriculture committee with Rosanne Greco as the Council liaison. A form-based code Chair has not yet been appointed.
This action elicited wide and varied public response. Resident Sarah Dopp pointed out that three of the committees are very close to the end of their work and therefore she did not see any point in switching out the Chair positions at this juncture. She felt the new Council was simply trying to make a political statement. Former Councilor Jim Knapp said there would be a legal effect to the decision since Councilors are typically privy to legal documents not available to the general public.
A comment from another resident regarding criticism of the former Council followed. Helen Riehle responded and said that during the election, comments were made about the former Council and some people are happy about the changes, but she hoped that “...tonight, this will be where those pointed personal attacks begin and end.” Riehle would like to see collegiality embraced as the Council moves forward. “The work needs to be about the topics at hand and there needs to be respect for people personally” Riehle added. Nowak agreed, saying that “...we all love this City.” She, too, would like the Council to work collaboratively.
The remainder of the meeting moved along, with uncontested appointments made and differences noted between the Councilors over how public issues brought before the Council should be addressed. Bob Rusten pointed out that City Council meetings were designed to conduct City business and there are currently at least 25 items the Council needs to address within the next two weeks. Pam Mackenzie felt it was important to give time and attention to all public issues brought before the Council. Greco pointed out that the reason the “bike rack” list was created was to capture public comments about issues and then decide by majority vote when to put them on the agenda. After some discussion, Mackenzie said that another option, in addition to offering comment at a public meeting, would be for residents to contact her directly via phone or e-mail with their concerns.
Although the two new Council members have yet to complete their official Council training in Montpelier, they are already making suggestions that are being taken up. Chris Shaw mentioned at the end of the meeting that he would like to revisit the prior Council’s resolution on recording only the minutes of meetings that are required. Pat Nowak suggested that Council meetings begin later so more people can attend. Take note, after March 26th, Council meetings will begin at 7 p.m. the 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent